Focusing on Results

By Dennis McCafferty  |  Posted 2009-09-29 Print this article Print

The AT&T philosophy of information technology governance can be summed up simply: Make IT part of the business process, not an afterthought.

Focusing on Results

Arroyo was named CIO in January 2007, after the finalization of the merger between AT&T, BellSouth and Cingular. Previously, he had been CIO at Cingular Wireless. Since the postmerger period has been further challenged by the recent meltdown of the global economy, overseeing the direction of new IT investments is a weighty responsibility for Arroyo, who says AT&T remains results-focused.

In 2007, the three merged companies oversaw 6,000 IT applications. Today, 1,600 of those applications have been removed from the market, as IT and business departments concluded that the applications were redundant and a drain on revenue.

In AT&T’s work with Apple on the iPhone, the technology organization cooperates with line-of-business managers so both parties can deliver the swiftest market cycle while maintaining the high standards of the product—a strategy for success in difficult times.

“We’ve kept our delivery model consistent through all the various generations of iPhones, which allows us to have a shorter cycle,” Arroyo says. “To do this, we’ve had to extend our IT systems infrastructure to Apple and put a security wrapper on them. We’ve done this several times now, first with the initial iPhone, then with the 3G and, this year, with the 3GS.

“You need to do this in six to nine months. You don’t have years to make this work because it won’t work at all if you take that much time. In good times or bad, we’re always focused on using our IT resources to enhance innovations that produce shorter cycles.”

AT&T’s technology organization oversees hundreds of the company’s business systems, including Internet/intranet infrastructure; front- and back-office applications; and customer billing, service and other tasks. To execute on all this, application development teams that are business-focused—dubbed Consumer IT, Enterprise IT and Corporate Systems—are organized along the major products and services lines.

A technology shared-services team—divided into areas known as IT Operations, IT Architecture and Common Services Integration, Process and Portfolio Management, IT Sourcing and IT Billing Operations—is in place to support the application teams and handle infrastructure operations, architecture and related needs. The infrastructure runs primarily on hardware from Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Sun Microsystems. The core of the applications is Unix-based, operating on x86 servers.

While the infrastructure remains consistent, its impact continues to shape the company in ways considered unimaginable a decade ago. Take telephone service, which used to be monitored on a relatively passive level. If there was a service problem, a red light would flash in a network center, and a technician would be dispatched to fix it.

“Today, we take a more predictive approach,” Arroyo says. “We examine the activity with small transmission outlets, and collect and correlate the data. Our IT people work with our telephone services staff to get a sense—depending on the age of the equipment and the traffic—of which cables will fail, and when. Then we repair them before they break. We’ve patented this technology, actually. This is the kind of [innovation] that has resulted in our company getting more than 100 patents over the past 12 months.”

The same thinking has gone into providing better, user-friendlier services to customers on calling plans. Traditionally, the customer would try out a plan for a few months and then decide whether the plan made sense for the actual minutes used. Now, thanks to the collaboration between IT and business, those customers receive proactive prompts that encourage them to consider alternative plans that are more appropriate for their usage.

“We give customers the ability to make a better decision,” Arroyo says. “We don’t wait for them to come to us, asking if they’re on the right plan. We examine the data, correlate that with the available plans and then present it to them.”

Dennis McCafferty is a freelance writer for Baseline Magazine.

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